THE DELIRIUM BRIEF by Charles Stross. Book Review

THE DELIRIUM BRIEF by Charles Stross

Orbit, 435 page HC, £18.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

The first thing to remember when reading this series (The Delirium Brief is eighth book in the Laundry Files sequence) is that the majority of the ‘good’ characters are all British civil servants. That immediately puts constraints on the department they work for. You can also expect a lot of jargon, acronyms and references that pass over the heads of the man in the street. Although other countries have levels of bureaucracy none has quite the same flavour as in Britain, after all, we have been doing it longer. This makes this series very ‘English’.

The department Bob Howard, the narrator (not his real name for reasons of national security) belongs to is known as the Laundry. It is the depository of anyone who appears to have magical or supernatural abilities. Its scope has increased as the series has continued and the threats have become more outlandish. In the previous book, The Nightmare Stacks, Leeds was virtually wiped from the face of Britain when an elven army invaded. As The Delirium Brief opens, the team are still trying to cope with the aftermath. Instead of having a period of respite, the Ministry of Defense announces that the department is being disbanded, forthwith, and everyone employed there is therefore sacked.

Senior management of the department is run by the Auditors (Deeply Scary Sorcerers) and Dr Armstrong, the Senior Auditor has contingency plans. Information leaked from their American equivalent comes just in time to set them in motion. Raymond Schiller, who everyone thought had been put permanently out of the picture for good in The Apocalypse Codex. The televangelist was an agent of an entity intent on subverting the planet. He has made a good start in the United States and now intends to subvert the British Government. The means of controlling others is via parasites that are transmitted sexually so Schiller takes over an expensive Country Hotel and proceeds to hold parties for suitable hosts for the parasites. The picture painted of politicians is that all of them (no exceptions) can be corrupted by sex and drugs making the entire Government an easy target.

To counter the threat, Armstrong has to make alliances with some of the opposition from previous novels (they being the lesser evil). Howard and Johnny McTavish and sent to break Cassie (All-Highest queen of the elves) and Alex (her paramour) out of the very high-security prison on Dartmoor. Persephone Hazard (uber-witch) is sent to facilitate the escape of Iris Carpenter (from The Fuller Memorandum) from a secure prison while Dr Armstrong visits the ‘Lesser Evil’ in the Tower of London. Anyone familiar with this series can expect collateral damage by the end of the novel.            

The heart of this The Delirium Brief is a good, fast-paced action novel with the participants showing varying degrees of competence. The issue some will have is that it is full of jargon and references both to previous novels in the series, contemporary events and cultural references that neither the younger reader nor an overseas reader may be familiar with. The advice, then, is don’t start from here – read the series from the beginning if you want it to make sense. It is also very clear that Stross has issues with the Government in Westminster. I don’t think he likes Leeds much either.